Women on Factory Work

Textile Workers

The mixed-gender industrial workspaces and recreational facilities significantly reinforced the republic’s secularization agenda and strengthened its claim to a new positioning of the state vis-à-vis the women. Stories of new year’s parties organized by factory girls, pianos and gramophones played and listened by women on the shop floor filled the pages of mainstream and women’s papers.

 

Working women’s voices were lost in the narrative margins of these celebratory narratives as well as of state documents of the time – except for propaganda motives – but when they made themselves heard, they narrated a completely different experience of industrial labor.

Zehra Kosova

Tobacco worker and later trade unionist Zehra Kosova portrays the grim reality of industrial work in the 1930s and 1940s.[1] She details the dire precariousness caused by the seasonal demand of tobacco labor, extreme low pay, hazardous working conditions, and the dreadful housing problem tobacco workers faced in these years. For women, tobacco work was especially detrimental as was seen in the high numbers of miscarriages. The majority of tuberculosis cases in Bursa, for example, were young girls working in hot, humid and dusty workshops for ten to fifteen hours a day at very low wages.

[1] Zehra Kosova, Ben İşçiyim, İstanbul: İletişim, 1996.

Suat Derviş Nazlı's Commute

Nazlı, the main protagonist of Suat Derviş’s 1936 novel, This is the Novel of Things that Actually Happen, dreads working in unbearable heat in a cramped workshop off a dusty alleyway fourteen hours a day. Terrified of the long commute to the factory, she compares her shaking body and knocking knees to Jesus carrying the cross on his way to his crucifixion.[1] Still, in the old industrial centers hundreds of women and children applied to small textile factories to work twelve hours a day for very low wages.[2]

[1]  Suat Derviş, Bu Roman Olan Şeylerin Romanıdır, İstanbul: İthaki, 1936, 2018, 33.

[2] “Sanayi Hayatımızda Amelenin Vaziyeti,” Cumhuriyet, 19 January 1932.